On the same day that construction was started to build the race track and grandstands for July’s Honda Indy Toronto, it was announced on Wednesday that Canadian racing champion Ron Fellows and two partners have purchased Mosport International Raceway.
The Fellows group, called Canadian Motorsport Ventures, includes transportation industry leader Alan Boughton and real estate developer Carlo Fidani.
The group hopes to add more headline races at Mosport, north of Bowmanville, and to make improvements to the race track and spectator amenities.
At the CNE Wednesday, representatives of Green Savoree Toronto ULC, Honda Canada and some of the drivers expected to participate in the Honda Indy race weekend watched as the first blocks of the track were put in place.
The 2011 track build falls on the heels of a major investment announced last year, which includes a contribution of $772,000 from FedDev Ontario.
The 2011 Honda Indy Toronto will celebrate 25 years of racing on the streets of Toronto with a lineup featuring the IZOD IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship and the Ferrari Challenge.
Newman-Haas Racing driver James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, who raced in last Sunday's Indianapolis 500, was on hand Wednesday as was NASCAR racer J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge.
The Honda Indy Toronto will be held July 8-10 and, as was the case a year ago, Friday will be free. While there will be no admission, Honda Canada and the Green Savoree organization hope spectators will make a donation to Make-A-Wish Canada.
Meantime, Mosport's new owners say that over the next 18 months they have plans to build a new events and meeting facility, restore and renovate some of the current buildings and make improvements to the track and spectator amenities.
And investigate the possibility of more big-league races.
In recent years, the headline event of the season has been the Grand Prix of Mosport (July 21-24 this year), featuring the cars of the American Le Mans Series. While the ALMS will continue at Mosport, other sanctioning bodies will also be contacted.
“We'll look at every option so far as scheduling big-time car racing at Mosport,” Fellows said in an interview. “That's the history of the place and that's what we'll do going forward. There could be lots of increased opportunities and we'll look at them all.”
One improvement under consideration is an enlarged oval speedway at the facilities that has four circuits — the Grand Prix track, a skid pad/go-kart track, a racing school track and the half-mile oval.
“Anything is possible,” Fellows said.
Myles Brandt — a fixture at the facility since the early 1970s — will continue as president and general manager.
“Myles and his staff have done an extraordinary job with Mosport,” said Panoz, chairman of Panoz Motor Sports Group and founder of the ALMS.
“There is no deeper tradition or racing history in Canada than what exists here at Mosport. I am very happy to now turn it over to a group that loves this place as much as I do. They are the caretakers of a national treasure.
“And I want to say a special thank you to Ron Fellows, who has always been a true gentleman, champion and the greatest representative of Canadian racing that I have known.”
Fellows’ partners in the venture are also passionate about the sport. Boughton is president and managing partner of Trailcon Leasing and a long-time classic car enthusiast and restorer. Fidani is chairman and CEO of Orlando Corp. and brings development insight and experience to Mosport.
Fellows said the three men, who have been friends for about three years, started talking about going into business together last fall.
“We were all out at Spring Mountain (Motorsports Ranch, near Las Vegas) driving Corvettes at my school and talking about things and somebody said, ‘Hey, what about Mosport?’
“I made the initial call to Scott (Atherton, president and CEO of the ALMS) and they were somewhat surprised — the track was not for sale. But we met with them and were able to convince them that this group would take good care of it and help to move it to the next level.
“They shared with us some of the plans they'd had — some of the ideas and vision they had documented — before the economy went into the tank in 2007 and ’08 and that will be a big help for us going forward.”
Boughton said the new owners are open to events at the facililty that are not motorsports related.
“We're saying we're open for business,” he said. “We're going to talk to Myles (Brandt) about the events that have taken place during his tenure over the last 40 years, particularly the ones that were successful. We also want to know about the ones that weren’t successful and to find out why they weren’t successful.
“We have to decide what kind of non-race activity do we not want to have there. We've already noted some interest from non-race groups to do things. We are open for business and we're going to look at them all but not without consultation with Myles and his management team because we don't want to bring anything in that will prove to be negative.”
Fellows is a Canadian racing legend who attended his first race at Mosport — the Grand Prix of Canada — in 1969, when he was 11.
Fellows, who — unlike many other Canadian racers who have moved to the United States — continues to live in Mississauga with his wife and children, is a three-time American Le Mans Series class champion for Corvette Racing, first Canadian winner of the Rolex 24 of Daytona, multi-time class champion at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a winner of NASCAR races.
Mosport is where he won his first Drivers Championship, first Trans-Am Series victory, first prototype sports cars win and — most recently, in 2010 — an SCCA World Challenge race.
Mosport was the second road-racing track built in Canada after the now-long-gone Westwood Motorsport Park outside Vancouver.
It held its first major race — the Player’s 200 — on June 25, 1961, which was won by Stirling Moss. Grand Prix racers Jo Bonnier with Olivier Gendebien finished second and third.
Over the years, most of the greats of the sport, from Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart to A.J. Foyt and Fellows, have raced there.
Mosport has had a succession of owners — including a trust company. Two of the individuals who owned the facility, Norm Namerow and Harvey Hudes, are members of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.